Tag Archives: Faith

REVISITED: Doubting Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

The Tomb of St. Thomas. Mylapore, India.

Do you remember learning about the twelve disciples in Sunday school? To be honest, I don’t remember learning about the twelve disciples. I remember learning about the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only two of them were were named after one of Jesus’ disciples. I remember learning about Peter and Andrew as well as John and James. They were the two pairs of fisherman in the group. There was Matthew (formerly known as Levi the tax collector) and Phillip (though I am not sure what he did prior to joining Jesus). And, of course, there was Judas Iscariot. Everyone knows Judas as he is the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus with a Kiss.

The other disciples are largely skipped over and not taught about, in my experience, with the exception of one: Doubting Thomas. He was the guy who is infamously known for his doubt. Ironically, Thomas is only shown in one Gospel to portray that “doubt”, and only in one place. What’s more, that Gospel, John, was the last of the Gospel’s to be written and does not follow the same format or chronological timetable that the other three (Synoptic) Gospels follow. Thomas is seen in John 20:24-29 as not believing the other disciples when they tell him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas says, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”

As a result, Thomas has forever gone down in history as the guy who DOUBTED the resurrection. Jesus chastises him following his sudden change of heart upon seeing the risen Christ: “You believe because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me” (John 20:29). Poor Thomas, upon seeing Christ, had let go of his doubt and chose to believe, only to receive a cold shoulder from “[his] Lord and [his] God” (John 20:28). It’s as if Christ is saying, to all believers everywhere, “Do NOT doubt. For if you doubt your faith, in the end, is worth less than those who believe in me without doubting.”

For many people, these words have been a stumbling block to faith. To be fair to the text, they were meant to encourage people who had not been eyewitnesses to the resurrection to continue believing even though they had not seen; however, since then, they have become words of admonishment for those who DARE question the veracity of the resurrection, let alone any other matter of faith. The clear message that is taught to children in Sunday school is, shut down your questions lest you be found to be like doubting Thomas. Unfortunately, that fearful message has hindered the growth of many people who have suppressed the urge to question.

Yet, people fail to realize where Thomas’ “doubt” led him. He may or may not have questioned the resurrection; however, he did, without question, find himself in India preaching the Good News of his resurrected Lord. It is there, thousands of miles away from home, that he was martyred for Jesus and it is there, in Mylapore India, that his body lays at rest. Thomas’ doubt led him to be grow into a great proclaimer of the hope, healing and wholeness of his risen Lord and Savior.

Don’t let fear stop you from questioning and, even, from doubting. Doubt is neither good nor bad. It exists whether we want it to or not. Even as a pastor, I doubt. It is not doubt that is bad, but what we do or don’t do with it. Embrace your doubt, ask the tough questions, and allow the risen Christ to appear to you. Then it will be come REAL for you and you will grow in leaps and bounds in your faith. Christ does not admonish you for your doubts; rather, he calls you to embrace them, rise above them, and grow beyond them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to not deny my doubts, but to rise up and grow as a result of, and in spite of, them. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Holy Saturday

Read Matthew 27:62-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’Go out and stand before Me on the mountain,’ the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13a NLT)

Jesus in the Tomb

Today is Holy Saturday, which is the day in between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. It is on this day that his disciples sat in hiding. It is on this day that the uncertainty of death hung over them like a shroud, clouding them with the fear of the unknown and paralyzing them in that fear. They had followed Jesus for three long years and had invested all of their hopes and expectations in him. Now he was dead, gone, and the silence of the tomb echoed in their psyche about as loudly as a shrill scream in the night.

On the flip side, the powers that be that opposed Jesus were scrambling to keep the silence from becoming to uncertain. Caiaphas and other religious leaders were holding a meeting with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, regarding what they were going to do with this dead trouble maker named Jesus. The religious leaders were claiming that his disciples might come and snatch the body in order to make false claims about some sort of bodily resurrection. Out of fear that the body might disappear, they all decided that it would be best if guards were posted at the tomb to ensure that nothing happened to the body.” These men, too, were disturbed by the silence of the tomb, for they were afraid it might remain silent. So they did everything they could to ensure that it would.

The silence of death and the tomb affects each of us in many different ways. It seems so final, yet so uncertain, and we are left feeling not only loss by a sense of hopelessness. And I need not be talking about the physical death of any one person, but death in the broader sense. Throughout life, aspects of our lives die off. We come to identify ourselves one way, or another, and for a season that identification endures; however, there comes a point when that identity, that aspect, that part of us dies off and we are with a tremendous sense of loss and of fear. Who are we? How do we respond to this particular loss? Do we, like the disciples, hide in the shadows afraid of what lies next? Or do we, like the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day, place guard over the tomb to make sure nothing is out of our control?

Both of the above questions are pathways that we can take? Both seek to hang onto whatever control we have left. Paralysis and overreaction are on the opposite side of the same coin of control. However, there is a third option. We need not hide in the shadows or overreact in some outlandish way or through some sort of crazy power grab; rather, we have the option of letting go. We have the option of allowing the silence of the tomb to speak for itself. We have the option of letting go of control and allowing God to work resurrection in our lives. The reality is that no matter what we do, whether we hide in the shadows or stand guard over the tomb, that stone will be bursting forth with or without us. The question is not “if”, but “when.” When the Son of God sparks resurrection in your life, will be open to it or will you let it pass you by? The silence of the tomb gives you ample time to reflect on that very question. May that reflection be rich in the darkness and the silence of the tomb.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” – Steve Jobs

PRAYER
Lord, prepare me for the death in life, and for the death of life, for I know that all ends are the beginnings of something new. Amen.

REVISITED: Two Simple Questions

Read Matthew 16:13-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“[Jesus] asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” (Mark 8:29)

manquestioningOver the years I have been in ministry, I have developed a curriculum for teaching youth who are looking to be confirmed into the Christian faith. I feel that Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, has become rather lax in its education of confirmands and people in general. So, I took on the task of developing a curriculum that would educate those seeking confirmation so that in the end they knew why they were being confirmed and that they, indeed, wished to be confirmed into the Christian faith.

The curriculum started off with the history of Christianity, starting with Jesus of Nazareth and ending at our present age. And I didn’t just present the sugar-coated, Sunday School “history”, but a ten week study of the real history behind Christianity. Then I taught them the doctrinal and theological positions of our particular denomination, as well as its polity (or structure).

At the very outset of the class I assigned a paper to be written. I actually assigned two papers, but for the sake of this devotion, I will cover one of them. The paper I assigned was one that I actually had to write in seminary and I found it to be such a rewarding exercise that I included it in my confirmation curriculum. The questions I asked each of the students to answer are the following: “Who do people say that Jesus is?” and “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

These are the very questions that Jesus asked his disciples. They are very pointed and very important questions for anyone who places their faith in Christ to answer. None of us have grown up in a bubble. We have all learned who Jesus is from various sources. From reading the Bible, to Sunday School, to Church, to what we’ve gathered about him from our family and friends. All of those sources have helped shape our understanding of who Jesus is. And so the first question should be a fairly easy one for us to answer.

The second question, however, is one that forces us to go beyond what we’ve heard and learned about Jesus. I forces us to search our soul and our own personal experiences. It forces us to reflect on how we’ve experienced Jesus in our lives. How has he been revealed to us personally? How has he influenced our lives? How has he communicated with us? The apostles didn’t just hear things and learn things about Jesus. They knew him personally. They walked with him, asked him questions, and followed him. They witnessed him after the resurrection.

If we claim Christianity as our faith, if we believe in Christ, there has to be a reason why. Is the reason merely based off of second or third or fourth hand information passed down to you? Is it because you feel you have to believe it? If that is the case, then perhaps it isn’t belief at all. Surely, somewhere along the line you have experienced the presence of Christ in your life. Somewhere along the line you have been transformed by the presence the love of Christ.

Today’s challenge is for you to seriously reflect on the above two questions. Who do people say Christ is and who do you say Christ is? Take the time to sit, meditate and seriously reflect on who Christ is to you and why you believe the way you do. It is not an easy process, but it is certainly a rewarding one. As you grow your beliefs will adapt and grow as well. So make this exercise a part of your faith journey this Lent and beyond. Every so often revisit these questions and really see how God is working in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER

Lord, as I continue to walk in your light, illumine me. As I continue to seek your way, strengthen me. As I continue to grow in my faith, reveal yourself to me. Amen.

March 2, 2022 – Newton UMC – Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service

Worship service streams live at 7:30 p.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service on Wed., March 2, 2022, hosted by First United Methodist Church of Newton, along with First Presbyterian Church of Newton. Today we learn that we partner in Jesus’ suffering so that we may better see the experience of those who suffer daily and work with them for lasting justice.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc. Tonight’s collection will go to support local mission. To make sure your gift is included in tonight’s offering, please write Ash Wednesday in the memo of whatever platform you pay on, as well as on checks that are being written, which can me made out and mailed to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

God bless you all for your generosity.

February 27, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Live Stream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

Our 9:00 service will not live stream on YouTube today due to technical difficulties. We are working to get this service up and running as soon as possible. Please check out our Traditional Service.

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Traditional Worship Service for February 27. Today we learn that closeness to God is NOT the same as “doing good”; rather, any good we do is because of God and our closeness to Him.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

A LOOK BACK: To Wrestle and Prevail

Read Genesis 32:22-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)

jacob13

Questioning is a huge part of what it means to be human. We as human beings have been given the ability to think for ourselves, to know good from evil, to create, to name, and to care for other things. We have been given the vision of what paradise is, of what it means to live in harmony with all of creation, and we have also been forced to recognize that reality is often times much different than our vision of utopia. It is in those moments that we find ourselves questioning ourselves, questioning humanity, questioning the created order and, most importantly, questioning our Creator.

This is especially true when we are going through our own trials. When we find that we are losing control over different aspects of our lives, or when we come to the realization that we were never in control to begin with, we find that we start to question God. When we lose our wealth, when we our loved ones, when we lose our health, when we lose our independence, when we suffer loss in any sense, we can’t help but cry out to God and question why these things are happening. What’s more, we often get angry at God and, in the process, begin to feel guilt over our anger, over our doubt, over our questioning.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a man named Jacob who had stolen his brother’s birthright many years earlier and he was on his way back home to try and make amends with his brother who wanted to kill him…literally. One night, while on his way back to his homeland to meet his angry brother, a man suddenly wrestles with Jacob. We aren’t told who this man was and one can assume that Jacob had no clue who he was either. The two wrestle each other all night long and, in the end, Jacob wins the wrestling match. Realizing that Jacob had won the other man strikes him on his hip, which leaves Jacob permanently injured. Still, Jacob did not let go of the man and refused to do so until the man blessed him.

Perhaps Jacob thought the man was his brother Esau, after all, it was dark and the man happened upon him suddenly.  Regardless, the man ends up relenting and giving Jacob his blessing. After that, Jacob lets the man go and he names the place Peniel, which means, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” For whatever reason, Jacob came to the realization that the man was God, and that he had wrestled with God. Upon this revelation, God renames Jacob Israel because he had wrestled with God and prevailed.

I tell this story for all who feel guilty for wrestling with God. For all who have questioned and for all who have found themselves angry with God, take heart! You are not alone. God has big shoulders and can take our questions. God knows our hearts and understands our anger. God blesses us when we wrestle with God, because that means we are in relationship with God. We weren’t created to be mindless drones; rather, we were created to be a relationally engaged people. Who doesn’t struggle in relationships? That’s the very nature of them.

Take heart, be confident, and know that God does love you and that God does give you the space to wrestle! God has blessed you with the ability to question, to think freely, and to wrestle with God when we don’t understand why things are as they are. In fact, it is in that relational wrestling match that we will find that God has richly blessed us with a renewed assurance of our identity in our Creator, and of our Creator’s identity in us. For all who have indeed wrestled with God, stand up tall and thank God for such an awesome opportunity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” – Marcus Aurelius

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart and you know that I have struggled and even wrestled with you. I thank you for having broad shoulders and for giving me the opportunity to wrestle and, more importantly, to be in relationship with you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 6: Abraham

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 6, Abraham. Even if one has never been in a church, or sat in a Sunday school class, he or she most likely knows exactly who Abraham is. He is known as the father of three of the worlds major religions, all three of those religions being the largest in the world. He is also the father of the three religions that have had the most impact on the development of the world. So, it is pretty hard to live in this world and NOT know who Abraham is.

If you were to randomly ask who Abraham was, you might get “the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Or, you might get “the old guy who had a child.” Or, still, you might get “the guy who took his child up on a mountain to sacrifice him because God told him to” (more on this later). Of course, you most likely would get “a person of tremendous faith.”

All of the above are true; however, the fact is that Abraham got things wrong far more often than he got things right. While he may have had faith when it came to following God’s call to leave his homeland behind, he did not have faith enough to not sleep with Hagar in order to have a male heir. His faithfulness to God was limited by his inability to remain faithful to Sarah. I am not even referring to the fact that he had sexual relations with another woman, but that he was so willing to give his wife over to be the sexual property of kings in order to save his own hide.

On top of all that, Abraham had such a faith in God that he was willing to do something that is so horrific, so unimaginable that, it is hard to justify no matter what one’s theology is. When Abraham is told by God, according to the story, to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of a mountain, Abraham does exactly what he is told, without even questioning.. He does not let Sarah know, for obvious reasons, but he takes his son and has him carry the wood to his place of death.

The whole time, Isaac is walking alongside of his dad thinking that they are on their way to sacrifice a lamb. He even asks his dad, “where will we get a lamb, dad?” Abraham responds, “The LORD will provide us one.” Nice, right? He’s leading his own son to the slaugther and Isaac is completely unaware that his dad, the one who is supposed to love and protect him, is about to butcher him with a knife and burn his flesh to appease God.

It truly is one of the most horrific stories in all of the Bible. It’s easy for us to glaze over the fact that he’s about to murder his son, and focus on the faith he was displaying to do so; however, would any of us think the same thing if a modern father attempted to murder his own son because he heard God’s voice telling him to? When Abraham hears that the city that his nephew was living in is going to be destroyed, he argues with God over it and gets God to agree to spare his nephew’s life. If he could do that for his nephew, why didn’t he do that for his own son? He had faith in God, sure, but he clearly was lacking in any sort of understanding of God’s character: LOVE. Otherwise, he would have surely questioned God on the command to sacrifice his son. Thank goodness that God put a stop to it before Abraham could carry the murderous act all the way through to its grizzly conclusion.

I could go on and on regarding the serious flaws that can be found in Abraham, but to mention all his flaws is beside the point. After all, we are all flawed, are we not? Despite his flaws and shortcomings, God saw the heart of Abraham. While he often failed to perfectly live up to God’s standard, his heart never waivered in trying. He strived to follow a God. Even though he could not see God, he knew God was present with him. Because of that, Abraham was open hearing God’s voice, and he followed it to the best of his ability. That is all that God asks of us as well. While we might not always be faithful, God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL. All God asks in return is for us to open ourselves up to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to trust that, no matter what our flaws are, God’s grace is sufficient and is sufficiently working Salvation in us and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

While God would never ask us to sacrifice our children to “prove our faith”, God does ask us to sacrifice plenty of other things (tithes, time, talents, presence, etc.), and doing so proves our faith.

PRAYER

Lord, give me ample opportunity to grow in my faith, so that my faith may witness to you.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaac

Part 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Extreme Faith

Read Genesis 22:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

indyOne of my favorite movies growing up was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Though I love all of the Indy movies, this one has always had a profound impact on me, especially on my understanding of faith. The story follows Indy on an adventure to save his dad; however, little does he know that this rescue mission will not only be about rescuing his father, but also rescuing his faith; he’s journey, over time, become a soul-searching quest.

In one scene, Indy finds himself standing at the edge of an abyss. He is facing a test unlike any other he had ever been challenged with. He quickly realized that the only way across was to take the proverbial leap of faith. The only problem was that the leap was about the length of a football field, if not longer. How is that humanly possible? How can anyone hope to get across such a huge abyss? Surely it is absurd to believe he could actually do it.

Yet, Indy must take that leap as his father’s life is bleeding out onto the cavern floor. He has to reach the Holy Grail, with the hope that the fabled treasure will restore his father’s life. Slowly, Indy places his hand over his chest as if to try and calm his heartbeat.  Could he really go through with this. All reason points to him plummeting to his death. Yet, he raises his right leg and lets his weight fall forward. As he falls forward, his foot lands on an invisible walkway. Indy has passed the test.

As Christians, we often take our faith for granted. We say we believe in God, we say we believe in miracles, and we even say that we KNOW that God exists and that miracles happen; however, if we truly KNEW such things, would we really need faith? If Indy knew that the walkway existed, would he have had to calm his heartbeat? All that Indy thought he knew was that he was bound to plummet to his death.

Christ calls us to be a people of faith. Like Abraham, who did not know God was going to stop him from sacrificing Isaac, like the prophets who didn’t know if they would survive proclaiming God’s judgment to the kings of Israel, just like Jesus who faced the gulf of the unknown in the olive garden, just like the disciples who did not know what fate awaited them in foreign lands, we too are called to live a life of extreme faith.

Søren Kierkegaard, once said that the faithful are like those who are suspended over 70,000 fathoms of water and yet they still have faith and are joyful. Why? Because, though it might be absurd to have faith in the midst of such uncertainty, they trust that God will come through. It may be absurd to the rest of the world, but the person of faith holds onto that absurdity in faith. I challenge you to be a people who have such trust in God. I challenge you to be living examples of extreme faith, to be tiny mustard seeds that move the mountains and shake the foundations of the earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER

Lord, help me to grow in my faith so that I may be equipped with your grace, enough to move the mountains with your hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

God’s People, part 294: Jude

Read Jude

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us”(Mt 13:55–56, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 294: Jude. There has been much controversy and misunderstanding when it comes to the “Holy Family”. First, is what I will call the Roman Catholic/Protestant controversy, which is the controversy of whether Mary only had one child or if, after the virgin birth, she consummated her relationship with Jospeh and had other children. The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians maintain that Mary remained a virgin and that James, Jude (aka Judas…but not to be confused with Judas Iscariot) and the other siblings were either Joseph’s from a previous marriage, or that the sibblings were actually cousins whose Mother, also named Mary, were kin to Joseph and taken in by the Holy Family.

Initially, Protestants didn’t argue against perpetual virginity because they were trying to walk the line of splitting from Rome but maintaining the essential doctrines of the Roman Catholic. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and even Wesley upheld their views in the perpetual virginity of Mary. It didn’t take long after the establishment of Protestantism, however, for the notion of Sola Scriptura to cause Protestants to question and eventually drop belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Why? Because sex was something God ordained and blessed within the covenant of marriage and Mary is not any less holy for consummating a marriage that God clearly blessed. Moreover, the Gospels explicity contradict the perpetual virginity doctrine. Beyond the fact that both Mark and Matthew explicitly name Jesus’ siblings (which they refer to them as siblings of Jesus), Matthew also wrote that Joseph “…did not have sexual relations with [Mary] until her son was born…” (Matthew 1:25).

That verse alone Scriptural proof that Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage and had more children following the birth of Jesus. There would be no need to write it otherwise. If Joseph and Mary never had sex, the author would have NEVER written that verse. He would have, instead, written that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before or after her son was born; however, that is not what the Scripture verse says. Furthermore, Luke writes that Mary “…gave birth to her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). If there was only ONE son, then it would have been said by Luke that she gave birth to her ONLY son; yet, that is not what Luke wrote.

As a Protestant, we have to put Scriptural evidence above the later teachings oof the church Father’s and church tradition. Jude, like James, was one of Jesus’ many siblings. He is also traditionally viewed as the author of the epistle of Jude, which is the second to the last “book” in the New Testament. At the outset of the letter, the author does introduce himself as Jude, the brother of James. Despite scholarly debate, I tend to give credence to tradition when there isn’t clear evidence against it. Thus, I tend to think of the author as being Jude.

The letter itself was written against Christian teachers and leaders who were living and and leading people to live lives of immorality. It is a letter that is short, but strong in it’s advocating in mainting a holy and moral life that reflects the Lordship of his brother Jesus. The irony there is that Jude, along with James and the other siblings, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of God before his resurrection and ascension.

In Mark 3:21, we learn from Mark that his family tried to take him away because they felt that he had lost his mind. Mark does not explicity say who in his family, so we have assume that they all were worried that Jesus was going to get himself killed if he kept going on the path he was on. In verse 31 of the same chapter, Mary and his brothers actually showed up to talk to Jesus while he was teaching his disciples and others. We can successfully presume that this in relation to what was said ten verses earlier. They were coming to “talk sense” into Jesus and take him back home.

In Acts 1:14 we learn that Mary and Jesus’ brothers were among the believers who met to decide Judas’ replacement. By that point, Jude and James were believers and were going to become influential in carrying on the ministry of their half-brother. From there, we learn that James becomes the more prominent, leading the church of Jerusalem. Jude, though not as prominent as James the Just, still had influence and traveled with his family to bring the Good News to people. He also ended up writing a letter to correct Christians who were following false teachers.

The point of this is that we all come to Jesus in our unique ways. Jesus’ half-brothers were no different; however, when they saw their brother resurrect and they saw him ascend into heaven, there was no doubt that they were not only going to believe, but that their lives were forever transformed. The same is true for us. How have you encountered the Risen Lord? How have you come to know Jesus? Reflect on that and appreciate how the Lord reached out to you and established his Kingdom in your heart.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Mark 3:34b-35, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to appreciate my relationship with you and use me to introduce you to others. Amen.